The Many Types of Oil Painting Surfaces

Oil paintings are often created on a variety of surfaces known as supports. Materials such as canvas, panels, paper, wood, metal, and various others can be used.
Note: The surface is called a support because it “supports” the medium used to paint the image.

Below are some interesting bullet points about the more common types of oil painting surfaces.

Types of Oil Painting SurfacesStretched Canvas is:

  • the most common support for oils used by modern-day artists.
  • a tightly woven flexible material made from cotton, linen, or other synthetic material stretched across a wooden or metal stretcher bar frame.
  • can be purchased already primed and stretched onto stretcher bars, or it can be purchased in bulk rolls that the artist cuts up into smaller pieces and stretches onto the frame.
  • comes in three varieties of textures—

Fine: extra smooth surface for finely detailed paintings, such as portraiture.
Medium: bold texture surface for expressive paintings with broad brushstrokes, like the Impressionists.
Rough: abrasive “toothy” surface to enhance adhesion for collage.
Note: The more refined the canvas texture is, the less the surface of the canvas will show through in your finished painting.

Types of Oil Painting SurfacesCanvas Panel Board is:

  • a rigid surface covered with primed canvas glued onto cardboard.
  • are easier to frame than stretched canvases.
  • easier to store and travel with since it takes up less room than stretched canvases.
  • also is more durable and less easily damaged than stretched canvases.
  • preferred by many artists for their smaller paintings.
  • an ideal option for painting on location because they are lightweight, and also sunlight will not shine through the back.

canvas paperCanvas Paper is:

  • a flexible surface primarily used for small sketches, color notes, and other purposes.
  • not a good surface to paint on because it is too fragile and will not last through the years.
    Note: Works painted on canvas paper must undergo extreme restorative and conservative treatments, usually within a few decades.
  • available in various paper qualities—

100% cotton: top of the quality scale, the paper is made entirely of cotton.
Rag paper: some rag content is included in the paper, often mixed with wood cellulose.
Wood-free or high alpha cellulose or wood sulfite: the highest grade of wood pulp paper.

fine art wood panel boardWood Panel Canvas is:

  • a rigid surface for artists made from poplar, oak, linden, pine, cedar, or various other hardwoods, like mahogany or walnut
    Note: Other types of woods these panels are made from include plywood, fiberboard, Masonite, and particleboard.
  • the best for painting when they are well seasoned, air-dried quarter-sawn hardwoods to avoid warping, shrinking, as this causes them to hold paint better
    Note: Wood panels need to be well-aged to prevent shrinking and warping from exposure to the water content present in some paints.

metal fine art panel boardsMetal Panel Canvas is:

  • a rigid surface that requires an oil primer to prepare it to support artist paints.
    Note: This type of surface does not fair well with liquid (water base) primers.
  • comes in various types of fine art metals — aluminum, brass, and copper.

Hopefully, this concise article will provide a little bit of information regarding the many types of oil painting surfaces available to the artist.

Additional Reading

Types of Canvas Available for Painting

About Artist Stretcher Bar Frames

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UPDATED: 19 January 2020

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